With limited state guidance, York County schools lack clear plan for COVID-19 tracking

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Para professional aide Jackie Dommel greets students as they arrive on the first day of school at Valley View Elementary School in Spring Garden Township, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in York County, local school districts are in the dark about when they should temporarily close buildings to prevent COVID-19 spread. 

At this point last year, state officials had communicated the threshold for school closures based on recorded COVID-19 cases, noted Southern York County Superintendent Sandra Lemmon. The only clear guidance schools received amid the most recent fourth wave of infection has been to follow CDC recommendations for K-12 schools. 

York County, along with most counties across Pennsylvania, is in the high transmission category, according to the CDC. The 14-day COVID-19 case count for the county is higher than it was at this point last year. Despite this, most local school districts are beginning the school year with more relaxed health and safety plans compared to last year.

More:116 new COVID-19 cases reported in York County

For most of the previous school year, all public school districts in York County were required to follow state guidance on school closures and universal masking.

In late November, state school districts were asked to sign attestation forms agreeing to follow the guidance while their county was in substantial spread, which at the time was the highest level of spread. In return for signing the form, the school districts were allowed to keep schools open when the building's COVID-19 cases were low. 

The attestation form is not in effect this school year, leaving safety procedures up to individual school districts. Most local school districts are keeping masks optional for students and staff, and all 16 districts plan to allow students in the classroom five days a week. Keeping schools open for in-person learning was noted as a top priority among many district officials across the county. 

But the relaxed protocols could pose a threat to in-person learning, according to health experts. York City Health Bureau Medical Director Dr. Matthew Howie recommended that schools consider strengthening their mask policies when their area is at substantial or high transmission. Without stronger policies, Penn State University professor Casey Pinto said schools could become COVID-19 super-spreaders. 

"If masks are optional, they're not going to wear them," Pinto said. 

More:Could schools become COVID-19 super-spreaders amid delta variant surge?

It remains unclear how most York County school districts plan to communicate their COVID-19 spread to the public. Last school year, a majority of local districts had COVID-19 dashboards available on their website, where people could view the total number of cases recorded to each building over the previous 14 days. As of Monday morning, only four districts still had their dashboards available. 

In lieu of a dashboard, the West York Area School District plans to send community messages to communicate their recent COVID-19 cases, according to spokesperson Cynthia Greco. Central York School District officials are still discussing how to publish their recorded cases, according to spokesperson Julie Romig. 

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Kennedy said the Spring Grove Area School District does not plan to reinstate its COVID-19 dashboard, and the district does not have any current plans to publish  reported cases.

For information about your district's COVID mitigation policies, see the table below: